"Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys" by Victor Rios

Updated: Jan 30


TITLE: Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys

AUTHOR: Victor Rios

PUBLISHER: NYU Press

PUBLISHED DATE: June 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0814776377

PAGES: 237

This should be required reading for anyone looking to work in urban schools, community centers, organizations, institutions or companies. Dr. Rios has written a very thorough account of how black and latinx boys are systematically criminalized by the very institutions claiming to "help" them. Often times we think of the myriad of ways the police are brutalizing young black and latino boys. Some who claim to be "woke" may even talk about how urban schools are a part of the vicious school-to-prison-pipeline, but we often forget to include how nearly the entire community views black and latinx boys as criminals and criminalize their behavior even when they have committed no crime.

As a librarian who has spent the bulk of my career living and working in what many could call "the hood", I can can testify that what Rios is saying about the way we treat our boys is true. I have witnessed first hand how centers - including the library - that are supposed to be safe havens, places where young people can come and read and check out boys, gain internet and printing services, charge their phones and attend programs have been viewed as and treated as criminals even when they have committed no crime.

In Rios' study, he interviews 32 young men from a variety of backgrounds, who live in the Los Angeles area, and maintains contact with these young men for three years. Over the course of three years, Rios watches how these young men are routinely stopped and frisked, and often times humiliated by police officers. Rios himself grew up in the very same neighborhoods of his interviewees, and was recognized by the young men as an "OG" as he had been involved in gangs as a youth. He notes the family dynamics that shape the boys' interaction with very hostile living environments. Rios interviews teachers and school administrators who in word and action are grooming the young men for the penitentiary. He notes, that for even the smallest infraction, talking back to a teacher, using obscenities in class - teachers will call the police, wherein the police will then enter the young men into a gang database, and in some instances the youth is abused or tortured by the police. If, in the future, the youth should commit a crime, any crime, even including stealing a $.25 candy bar, the youth could face additional jail time of up to 5 years. Though harsh treatment is the norm for black and latino boys, boys of other races are never treated with the same harshness for engaging in similar acts. In some instances, Rios himself is a target of police harassment due to being near or around the boys.

As I've noted, I am no stranger to these kinds of practices. I have seen them happen in real time, and in the places where I have worked I have tried to be an advocate. Sometimes there are no advocacy badges for trying to speak up for teens. You have to be confident that it is simply the right thing to do, and let that give you the confidence to keep speaking up and showing up for the youth that you serve. Rios points out that many young black and brown people are simply looking for people and spaces to affirm their dignity and humanity. I am a firm believer that libraries, schools, and society should provides ample spaces and community workers who give that to our youth.

Noteworthy is that Rios' study excludes black and latino males who are members of the LGBTQ community and the unique ways they are affected by criminalization and peer victimization. I would have liked to have seen the book discuss this in depth as black and latinx youth who identify as LGBTQ are often targets of both in extreme ways that make them hyper visible targets of the hyper-masculine brutality prevalent in these communities. He mentions, briefly, how young women are affected, but on this I'd have liked him to expand his research and to dig a little deeper. He does talk about how many black and latinx boys "act dumb" because this is what is expected of them, but he excludes young people who have disabilities and how they are often targets of criminalization when they are merely exhibiting symptoms of their disability. Our nation incarcerates a very high number of individuals who have mental health issues and who have disabilities, and all too often black and latinx individuals are the most targeting.

All in all, this is a significant work that should be read by anyone working or wishing to work with urban youth.

TEDx Talks: From 'at-risk' to 'at-promise': supporting teens to overcome adversity: Victor Rios at TEDxUCSB

Recommendation: Should be required reading, particularly if you work with primarily black and latinx youth.

Audience: Young people could benefit from reading this book, even though it's very jargon heavy and clearly intended for academia. (Common slang terms are frequently accompanied by a definition.)

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